by Sandy Repp
“Strengthening Youth, Families and Communities” is a central part of Cooperative Extension’s mission.
Many people know about 4-H clubs and programs that help youth acquire life skills. Less familiar are Extension’s classes on parenting skills, which have achieved dramatic, documented results for families across Tompkins County for almost 40 years.
CCE-Tompkins’ Family and Community Development (F&CD) program offers free or reasonably-priced workshops designed to help parents understand the reasons behind their current parenting behaviors, and learn new, more effective parenting and communication skills.
One highly effective class is Parents Apart®, initiated at the request of local court officials who saw a need for education and support for families experiencing separation or divorce.
Research overwhelmingly shows that reducing parental conflict creates better outcomes for children. Parents Apart class topics include how to minimize tension between parents by using specific strategies and communication skills, and how to parent when couples are separated or are experiencing high conflict.
Developed by the University of Massachusetts, the six-hour Parents Apart curriculum helps parents and caregivers better understand how children of different ages experience the separation/divorce process, and how to keep kids out of adult conflicts.
Registration is confidential and parents of the same child(ren) attend different sessions. Classes are available each month, as two weeknight sessions or a full day on Saturday. Approximately 120 parents enroll each year.
To assist incarcerated parents and those in re-entry to their local communities who must deal with new and different parenting arrangements, CCE-Tompkins brought its parenting education programs to adults in the local justice system.
A “Healthy Family Relationships” class series was started in 2007 for Tompkins County Probation Day Reporting participants. In 2017, Parents Apart was piloted with separate groups of incarcerated men and women in the Tompkins County Jail.
Response to the Parents Apart® class at the Jail was immediate and positive. Cathy Kinder, MSW, who led the first group of 10 men, recalled how participants shared their struggles in relationships with their children’s mothers, and the pain of separation from their children caused by incarceration.
“They quickly started to open up in a conversational way, seeking affirmation, information and support from me and from each other,” Kinder recalled. “I was constantly adapting the material to include their reality because they wanted to talk about their kids, the mothers of their kids, the way they are perceived by others and society, how trapped they feel, and how hard it is to do things differently.
“One guy said that this class went beyond the subject matter in that it stirred their own need to talk among themselves in a way they don’t often do – about their kids, their hopes and dreams and how they can try out some of the course information.
”Participants recognized their need for more coaching on communication, not just with their children but with the mothers, because if something doesn’t work, they tend to give up or don’t know what else to do,” Kinder concluded.
CCE-Tompkins currently is seeking funds to extend this Parents Apart pilot this year.
The idea behind this work is that “Strong individual families are the building blocks of strong communities, and family-supportive communities help build strong families,” says Anna Steinkraus, CCE-Tompkins’ F&CD leader.
Other F&CD offerings include professional training for human service providers who work with families; hosting a monthly Coalition for Families group that meets to discuss issues relevant to families; special opportunities (such as recent Community Café Host trainings offered to teach individuals to facilitate groups to advocate for community improvements) and parenting skills classes.
[Published 12 February 2018 in Tompkins Weekly, Opinion/East Hill Notes. Online at:
Last updated July 26, 2019